So I like to watch the NBA - in fact that's the main reason I subscribe to Sky; for my twice weekly fix of NBA matches.
I've been getting slowly more dissatisfied with what I'm getting though...
A few years ago I used to get either 2 or 3 games a week - usually one mid-week game, and then, if I was lucky, a double header Friday or Saturday night match. I didn't get a double header every week, but often enough.
These days they are still playing the double headers, but we now only get one of the matches on Sky. As the broadcast is part of the feed from the US, they tell
you about the double header, and preview the exciting second match. That I won't be watching here in NZ.
The other thing they tell you, is that the matches are available in High Def. But again, that's for people living in other countries. Not for me. Not in New Zealand. Not on Sky.
(Sigh - the projector I bought four
years ago does High def. 720p and 1080i, but I've never had anything High-def to feed into it.)
And, frankly, the NBA "standard def" picture we get here isn't even that. It's noticeably worse than, say, TV1 via Sky.
I can understand why - the signal is originally NTSC, which is only 480 lines, as opposed to PAL which is 576 lines (20% more). And NTSC's signaling means that the picture isn't even as good as a lower resolution PAL would be anyway. And then it's compressed and uploaded to a satellite, and downloaded by Sky TV, transcoded to PAL, re-compressed and uploaded to another satellite, and downloaded to my Sky decoder. The signal is digital, but there's an analogue step at my end to transfer it to my HDD recorder, and, I'm guessing, there are probably analog steps all along the way.
The quality of the picture at the end of this is pretty dire.
But let's quantify how bad the quality is. I ended up forgetting to record the NBA all-star match due to one thing and another, so I decided to download it from the internet via bit torrent. The torrent I downloaded was only 360 lines, but had originally been recorded off a 720p signal in Hong Kong, and then down-sampled and h.264 encoded.
As a comparison I grabbed some frames from a match this week via Sky.
First up, Sky TV:
Second, a Torrent downloaded from the internet:
The second picture is the 360 line h.264 file, while the first is the PAL 576 line picture, but scaled to make everything the same size (so the players are the same height).
How is it that a file downloaded from the internet is better quality than the digital Sky picture I'm paying for? Look at the players with the ball in each. LeBron James in the Bit Torrent, and, well, I can't tell you who in the Sky TV picture. I can't even make out his number. And compare the backboards in both. And, ummm, everything else. Absolutely unbelievable.
Sky says they are planning on moving to High Def. Sometime in 2008. And I'm sure they'll want to charge me several hundreds of dollars for a new decoder at that point as well.
Honestly, if I didn't believe that I have some sort of moral obligation to actually pay for things, I'd just cancel my Sky account and download everything from the internet. I'm pretty sure that's what everyone else does...